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Entries in Zombie Strippers [2008] (1)

Wednesday
Mar162011

Zombie Strippers (2008) Home Video Review

Show Us Your Brains!

This is the least fun I've had watching Jenna Jameson get eaten on screen.

Sorry, I had to get that out of my system.

Am I shocked that Jay Lee's Zombie Strippers isn't very good?  No. But I am surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did.  The film's political humor is extremely dated and flat (sad for a movie that's barely three years old), and much of the acting and direction are poor by porn standards.  But beneath the metric tons of silicone lies the undead, beating heart of an honest-to-God, interesting zombie movie.

In the near future, George W. Bush has been elected to his fourth presidential term; the U.S. is engaged in wars all over the planet; and bio-tech corporations think nothing of collateral damage in the face of gargantuan profits (so, Zombie Strippers gets a two out of three on the prescience scale).  There's a zombie outbreak at one of these companies' facilities, and a small group of marines is called in to dispatch the monsters.  One of them is bitten and runs from his comrades, who would surely gun him down if they found out.

The soldier seeks refuge in an underground strip club run by a sleazeball named Ian (Robert Englund). Business isn't what it could be, even with a head stripper like Kat (aforementioned adult superstar Jameson).  The club features the same feisty cast of clichéd dancers you've seen in every movie from Coyote Ugly to Showgirls: the bitchy one; the bitchier one; the bitchy jealous one; the Jesus-loving country bumpkin dancin' for grandma's medical bills; the madam/manager of vague European descent; and the Goth chick.

Before long, the soldier attacks Kat just off stage and mauls her to death.  The patrons are stunned at first, but come to believe this to be part of the stage act and resume drinking.  While Ian and his staff try to figure out how to dispose of the body, Kat's corpse re-animates and wobbles off to her dressing room.  There, she picks up where she left off in her copy of the complete works of Nietzsche--a book that, she declares aloud, finally makes sense.  Yes the Zombie Strippers zombies can talk, at least the female ones can.  The men are still drooling, bumbling automatons, which makes their living and undead states nigh indistinguishable.

Kat returns to the stage to perform a bizarre pole dance that mixes the awkwardness of rigor mortis with the sultry professionalism of a career seductress.  The men go wild, showering her with cash and applause.  When she's done, she pulls a guy out of the audience for a private lap dance and tears him to pieces, balls-first.  The Goth girl, Lilith (Roxy Saint) asks Kat to turn her into a zombie to fulfill her death obsession, and soon enough most of the club girls have been converted into undead cannibals of their own free will.  To Ian's delight, the zombie strippers have a hypnotic effect on the customers that causes them to bring friends to the show and dispense incredible amounts of cash; the few remaining regular girls are booed off the stage.

What follows is the standard montage of zombies getting loose and devouring the masses, with a handful of survivors holing up with weapons behind shoddily locked doors.  What saves the last twenty minutes of Zombie Strippers is Kat's showdown with rival stripper Jeannie (Shamron Moore), which ends with flesh and muscle being ripped from still-animated bone and pool balls launched from a vaginal canon.  The theatrics skyrocket past over-the-top into the mega-camp stratosphere, and while not particularly well executed, it was at least unexpected.

That's the film's central problem:  If Jay Lee had handed his concept over to Zach Snyder and James Gunn, Zombie Strippers could have been a fun, creepy, and exciting horror movie.  It's as if everyone involved in the production believed no one would take the concept of a zombie strip club seriously, so they hammed up every facet to the nth degree.  Which is a shame, considering there's some great stuff here.  I loved the petty, sentient zombies and their weirdly alluring qualities; I wasn't at all turned on by the dance scenes, but I admired the skill with which they were executed--particularly as the girls began to decompose, the rock and ritual intensified into something resembling an old Marilyn Manson video.  But when we're not focused on the zombies, everything goes to shit.

That goes for Jenna Jameson's performance, too.  Playing the living version of Kat, she's about as natural an actress as one might expect a porn star to be.  But she has a ton of fun in zombie mode, and though there was rarely a moment that I didn't wince at a line delivery, Jameson's natural exhibitionism came through when acting the full-on villain.

Also notable is Robert Englund, who I was embarrassed to watch, frankly, for about half the movie.  But when the zombie apocalypse got underway, his weasellly demeanor took on a chilling sense of menace, even abusiveness.  I don't endorse such qualities in people, but this was a nice added layer of complexity to a character who, up until the forty-five minute mark or so, was most notable for spraying everything with Lysol due to his fear of germs.

The Ian character is also a great example of how spectacularly the movie's political commentary bombs. Though released in 2008, Zombie Strippers feels like it came out in 2006, with its too-easy references to the Bush/Cheney/Rove/Rice cadre, the August 6th PDB, bird flu, and a dozen other DNC talking points.  There's a heavy anti-Conservative bent to the film that clashes dramatically with Ian's overtly racist attitude towards the club's janitor, Paco (Joey Medina)--strangely, the film itself takes a similar stance in a later scene where Paco prepares to battle zombies by naming the bullets he loads into his pistol ("Guacamole", for example) and then donning a sombrero and bidding farewell to his pet donkey and a picture of his wife and two daughters (all named Maria).  It's a strange Zucker Brothers moment, one that certainly doesn't belong in a movie allegedly written to appeal to a more liberal-minded, non-prejudiced-asshole audience.

Despite all its gaping holes, dodgy CG gore effects, and ear-plug-worthy line deliveries, I enjoyed Zombie Strippers more than I thought I would.  I see it as a nobly failed experiment in broadening a genre that has since been run into the ground--which deserves credit, if not praise.